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Cards prospect Wong brings confident game to AFL

Cards prospect Wong brings confident game to AFL

Cards prospect Wong brings confident game to AFL
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Kolten Wong, the Cardinals' No. 1 second-base prospect, likes the fact the organization thinks he is a top player -- but it's something he has instinctively known for quite a while.

It's not boastful talk from the Cards' No. 1 selection (22nd overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft who also is the No. 4-ranked prospect in the organization, according to MLB.com. It's a self-confidence that has given Wong the mindset he hopes will ensure his success in the Major Leagues. And he has proved it in the short term, turning in a very good year in Double-A in 2012, batting .287 with 52 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.

Meanwhile, a 31st-round pick (949th overall) in 2010, outfielder Mike O'Neill, also has made impressive strides. This past season, he hit .342 in Class A, with 24 extra-base hits, 35 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. Promoted to Double-A Springfield, O'Neill was on a hot streak for 13 games, hitting .563.

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The two are teammates for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League.

Wong, who was batting .324 with 12 RBIs and five stolen bases through Tuesday's games, has been able to carry over his Double-A season to the Fall League. Hitters are usually at a disadvantage in the Double-A Texas League, where Wong played for Springfield, because it is an eight-team league.

"You play 140 games and they kind of figure you out," Wong said. "It's just a learning process for me and constantly being able to change."

Wong sees no pressure after being tagged close to a "can't-miss" prospect.

"I've always had confidence in myself that I knew I was a good player, and I always knew I could play with the best, so I was always trying to do better and whatever I can to show the Cardinals I am ready, hopefully, to get a chance to play in St. Louis someday," Wong said. "It's good to see they appreciate me like that."

Wong, who spent three years at the University of Hawaii, brings a good mix of hitting and fielding to his team. He also brings patience and said he will go into Spring Training with the sole intent of winning a job.

"I want to be in the big leagues, so I'm going to do whatever I can to show the Cardinals that maybe I deserve a chance," Wong said. "If not, wherever they put me I'm fine with it, and I'll play my best wherever I go.

"For me, everything can always get better. I'm never satisfied where I am. I always feel like I can learn more and constantly get better. I feel like my whole game can get a little better."

O'Neill, meanwhile, was a quick study when he advanced to Triple-A this summer.

"The pitching was a little finer, but it's still the same game," O'Neill said. "There's still a pitcher, a catcher. Nothing really changed in my mindset, and I didn't try to make it, 'Hey, now I'm in Double-A, I need to change something.' I stayed with my skill set, and that's why I feel I succeeded up there."

O'Neill led the Saguaros with a .359 batting average through Tuesday, good for fourth in the Fall League. He said the AFL is giving his game a boost.

"Coming here, you face the best competition," O'Neill said. "Everybody aspires to be a big leaguer one day, and these guys are all future big leaguers, and just facing the best competition gets you ready for that. This has been a great experience, a learning experience, and I feel like I can hang with these guys."

O'Neill also is adept at another sport. He has been involved in karate since the age of 4 and has a first-degree black belt -- a nice achievement, but down the ladder a bit from his father, who is a fifth-degree black belt.

So in a fight, the old man wins?

"I've been the king of the household for some time now, but don't tell him that," O'Neill said with a laugh.

Cardinals hitters in the Fall League

Cody Stanley, a catcher, was a fourth-round pick (139th overall) in the 2010 Draft and has spent the last three seasons alternating between Rookie level and Class A. In 45 games with Class A Palm Beach in 2012, he appeared in 45 games, hitting .280 with 35 RBIs. Through Tuesday in the Fall League, Stanley had three home runs and five RBIs, batting .222.

Colin Walsh made a successful jump to Class A last season, hitting .324 with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs. The infielder was a 13th-round Draft pick (409th overall) in 2010. Athleticism runs in his family. His aunt was a world-champion rower at UCLA (1978), and his grandfather lettered in basketball at Georgetown for three seasons (1953-56). As a Fall Leaguer, Walsh has been used as a designated hitter and had a home run and 14 RBIs heading into Wednesday's games.

Cardinals pitchers in the Fall League

Seth Blair was the Pac-10 Conference Pitcher of the Year at Arizona State and a first-team All-American according to Baseball America and the ABCA. The right-hander was a Compensation Round A pick (46th overall) in 2010. He has been used almost exclusively as a starter the past two seasons. Blair has performed at a high level in the Fall League. Through Tuesday's games, he was 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in six starts, with 22 strikeouts in 20 innings.

Sam Freeman appeared in 22 games with the Cards last season (0-1, 5.30 ERA), his first trip to the Major Leagues. The lefty was tabbed in the 32nd round (965th overall) of the 2008 Draft, and he has done well in his five Minor League seasons. Freeman had appeared in seven Fall League games through Tuesday, all as a reliever, posting a 3.86 ERA.

Kevin Siegrist advanced to Double-A to close out the 2012 season, making eight appearances, five as a starter. The left-hander, a 41st-round pick (1,235th overall) in 2008, was 1-2 at Springfield with a 3.62 ERA. In the Fall League, he has started five of appearances, posting a 2-1 record with a 2.37 ERA. In 19 innings or work, Siegrist has recorded 27 strikeouts.

Boone Whiting, a right-hander who was selected in the 18th round (559th overall) of the 2010 Draft, started two games at Double-A Springfield this season and had a 1.50 ERA. He has been exceptional in the Fall League. In six starts, Whiting is 3-1 with an ERA of 3.38, notching 25 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings.

Jim Gintonio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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